Volunteer Frequently Asked Questions


On volunteering with Stepping Stones:

On Teaching:

About Stepping Stones and Migrant Education:


How can I sign up for the program?

If you would like to join our volunteering program, please fill out the Stepping Stones Volunteer Registration form. Submit any of your questions to enquiry@steppingstoneschina.net

You can find the registration form on our website under the page for Individual Volunteers or you can click the blue “Volunteer with Us” button on the right column of the website. After you have registered, we will save your information and invite you to the next orientation & training session once it has been scheduled.


Do I need to be a native English speaker?

No, but we request that you at least be proficient and confident enough to use English in front of a classroom of students.  Our teaching model is such that we can find a place for any proficient English speaker – those who are confident to teach in English will primarily take a leading role in the classroom, whereas those less confident may prefer to hold a more supporting position. If you do not feel confident to teach English, you can opt to assist with our computer teaching program or our I Care program.


I don’t know if I can teach a class by myself.  Can I help another teacher in the classroom?

Yes, all of our volunteers are paired with at least one other volunteer teacher, working as a teaching team. We try to have at least one native or fluent Chinese speaker in the classroom to help tackle the language barrier, and co-teachers support each other in many other ways. Register to volunteer and attend one of our trainings to learn more about how to co-teach.


Can I sign up to volunteer with a friend or family member?

Yes, if you want to volunteer with a specific person, please make sure that both of you indicate this under the “Other Requirements” section of the Volunteer Registration form.


What level of commitment is required of me?

We ask that our volunteers commit to at least one school term and contribute anywhere from 3-6 hours per week (depending on the commute time and teaching role).  There are two terms per school year - the first begins between early September and mid-October and ends between mid-December and mid-January. The second term is from February (after the Chinese New Year) to mid-June.


Are there any opportunities to teach at migrant schools during the summer?

Of course!  Stepping Stones runs a summer program every summer.  For more information, please check the Summer Programs page of our website for more information or email us at enquiry@steppingstoneschina.net.


Where are the schools located, and how do I know which one I will be teaching at?

We have approximately 30 programs running each term located throughout Shanghai.  The majority of our sites are not located in central Shanghai but are spread fairly evenly across the suburbs of Puxi and Pudong. Once you have attended one of our orientation & training sessions, we will allocate you to the most convenient program based on your availability and location.


Do I have to attend an orientation/training session before I start volunteering?

Yes, all potential volunteers should attend the beginners’ orientation & training session before volunteering.  While only one volunteer orientation & training session is required, volunteers are also encouraged to attend volunteer workshops given at our sites throughout the term.


How often are orientation/training sessions and workshops scheduled?

Our Orientation and Training sessions are concentrated around the start of term times (September/October, January/February and June/July). These sessions are determined based on the number of interested volunteers. Stepping Stones will send a notification of upcoming orientation & training sessions to any registered volunteers who have not yet attended one. Once you have joined a specific program, your coordinator will inform you of upcoming workshop options.


Is there a dress code for teachers?

Teachers are not expected to dress formally in China, but they are expected to dress conservatively. Please wear appropriate clothing for teaching, something that comes to your knee, covers your shoulders and is not too low-cut, to maintain the respect of your students and other teachers as well as to avoid distracting the students from the lesson. Also, wear clothes and shoes that you will be comfortable teaching in all day, bearing in mind you may be standing up for quite some time in a classroom which will be neither heated in the winter nor air conditioned in the summer.


How can I get to the schools?

Volunteers are responsible for their own transportation to and from schools.  This includes transportation time, cost and means.  Depending on your mode of transportation, commutes to the schools and community centres can take anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes each way.  Having said this, we will not just hang you out to dry.  Stepping Stones staff or your coordinator will inform you of the most convenient route to take and can also put you in touch with other volunteers to arrange carpool opportunities.


Will Stepping Stones reimburse my traveling expenses?

We are fortunate that most of our volunteers are willing and able to afford their own transport to and from the schools.  However, please inform our  program coordinator if the cost of getting to and from the volunteering site is prohibitive for you, we are able to reimburse some reasonable and pre-agreed travel costs (public transport where possible, and taxi fares where necessary, shared between the maximum possible number of volunteers).


Is there a list of standard school supplies that volunteers are expected to provide for the classroom?

No. Stepping Stones provides volunteers with teaching supplies and lesson plans. Once you start volunteering with us, your coordinator will let you know what supplies are provided and what you can expect the students to have. Don’t forget to visit our Volunteer Resource Centre on the Baidu Cloud for lesson plans and supplemental materials.


Can I visit a school before signing up?

You will have the opportunity to visit a school and observe class before teaching yourself.  However, out of respect for our students and the other volunteers, we cannot organise potential volunteers to visit our schools and community centres without first registering with Stepping Stones, agreeing to the Stepping Stones Volunteer Guidelines and attending our orientation and training. However, if you would like an idea of what our programs look like in action, please contact coordinator@steppingstoneschina.net for a link to a video of our volunteers teaching.


Where can I find a copy of Stepping Stones’ Volunteer Guidelines?

A copy of our Volunteer Guidelines and Volunteer Agreement can be found online here. All volunteers must read and agree to our guidelines, now included in our registration form, before volunteering in the classroom.


What if the information I provided when I registered changes?

If any of the information you provided on your registration form has changed since you first registered with Stepping Stones, please go to the link here and enter your email address to edit your profile in our database. This is especially important when it comes to your contact information and volunteering availability. If you cannot remember what email you registered with please email any changes in your details to coordinator@steppingstoneschina.net.


What if I want to bring a friend or family member with me to observe or participate?

While we tend to discourage having too many volunteers in the classroom at once, we understand that you may want to show your peers and/or loved ones how you have been helping migrant students and try to get them involved as well.  Please run this by your coordinator first and obtain approval from him/her before bringing in a friend or family member.  Should your friend or family member decide that he/she wants to volunteer with Stepping Stones as well, that’s great, but please ask them to register with Stepping Stones and attend orientation and training before continuing.


What if I want to volunteer other skills aside from teaching English?

We need Chinese speaking volunteers to assist with our computer teaching program, as well as from time to time to deliver training on eye care to migrant children. We also welcome all types of skills to help us out in the office, including administrative help, website design and maintenance, graphic design, fundraising, volunteer training, financial management, legal advice, research, translation and so on. Please also take a look at our specific needs on the Work With Us page.  If you do not yet know how you would like to help but have time or skills to offer, please start by completing the same Volunteer Registration form but indicate that you are not looking for a teaching role.


Is there a minimum age to teach in a Stepping Stones Program?

Yes. The minimum age to teach is 16, and parental consent is required. Under-18s may not join our rural volunteer tours unless accompanied by a parent or teacher who takes responsibility for their safety.


What is the purpose of Stepping Stones?

Stepping Stones’ Objectives are:

  • To increase students’ confidence and self-esteem;
  • To optimise students’ access to better quality education and work opportunities in the future;
  • To connect communities to promote inter-cultural understanding;
  • To offer volunteers a meaningful way to give back.

To learn more about Stepping Stones and its mission click here.


Why volunteer with Stepping Stones?

Stepping Stones offers a rewarding way to get to know the other side of China’s society and an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way to the education of underprivileged children.  English is one of the three core components of Chinese education curriculum, along with mathematics and Chinese, and one of the biggest differentiators between urban and rural students.  Teaching standards in migrant schools are low—especially in English language learning.  Furthermore, unlike their more fortunate counterparts, most migrant students cannot afford to pay for private tutoring; so Stepping Stones provides them with a rare opportunity to interact directly with fluent English speakers.  Due to the increasingly high demand for our services, we are always looking for volunteers.


Who are migrants and what are migrant schools?

Since the 1980s, millions of migrants have moved from rural China to Shanghai seeking better opportunities. Although these migrants are Chinese nationals, due to China’s household registration policy, which accords different benefits to urban and rural residents, they do not have the same residence rights and welfare benefits in the cities as urban citizens. There are not sufficient school places in urban public schools to accommodate all these migrant children. The situation has improved dramatically in Shanghai in recent years, with most migrant children now receiving free education in either public schools in Shanghai or private schools set up especially for migrant students.  However, the standards of some of these private schools still fall short of the standards in the public schools, and the educational provision for migrant children in other Chinese cities is generally not up to the standard for local children.

Go here for more information about migrant schools in Shanghai.


Why “Stepping Stones”?

The stepping stones in our logo symbolize the simple, practical and effective way our program bridges a gap between two disparate communities in Shanghai.  The two pairs of feet on the logo represent an adult helping a child to cross a river, step by step.  The river symbolizes the difficulty migrant children face in learning English.